- Missouri Employment Law Info Site – TimsLaw.com - http://www.timslaw.com -
I get asked about bullying almost daily. It has become sort of a catchphrase in the workplace to describe a variety of actions taken against an employee; either by a boss or co-worker. But the real question I get asked is, “Can I sue my boss for bullying me?”
Let me walk you through a quick analysis to help answer the question (caveat: If you are feeling bullied, you really need to speak to an attorney to do a thorough analysis of your rights):
1. What does the bullying consist of? I hear bullying being used in many different ways.
Is your boss giving you bad write-ups for no reason?
Are you feeling afraid that your boss is going to hit you because of some threatening gestures?
Is your supervisor intentionally sabotaging your job?
Is your boss constantly demeaning you and making you feel like you’re not doing your job well enough?
Is your employer allowing a co-worker to make threatening comments?
These are different forms of bullying in people’s minds. It could be that your boss is just an Ogre or has a vendetta against you. Be clear about this – if you’re an at-will employee in Missouri, the law gives you no special protection from unfair treatment from your employer unless you fall into one of the “protected classes” of individuals under Missouri Law. That’s right, “bullying” itself is legal in Missouri. Your boss just can’t bully you in connection with creating a hostile work environment due to you being in a protected class.
2. Is the bullying you are experiencing BECAUSE of your age, race, gender, religion, or some other protected activity?
This is an important question and sometimes takes a bit of time to analyze. “My boss is making it impossible for me to do my job. She constantly picks on me and writes me up for no reason. Constantly criticizes me and says mean things.”
My follow up questions will center around the following:
Do you believe your boss is picking on you because of your age, race, gender, religion (etc.)? Or is your boss just a flying a-hole to everyone?
3. Is there some other legal protection outside discrimination/harassment laws to help?
For instance, if a co-worker threatens you, or places you in fear of bodily harm, you may be able to sue them for civil assault, rather than under an employment law theory. If you boss gets frustrated and physically pushes you, you can call the cops. In other words, you don’t have to stand for bullying just because Missouri Law doesn’t offer you much protection. Yes, it will create tension around your job if you stand up for yourself, but you do have options even if you aren’t protected under Missouri employment laws.
Employee-friendly politicians have been trying for many years to get the legislature to enact anti-bullying laws. But there are too many opponents to those laws. They never pass.
There are good reasons pro and con regarding anti-bullying laws, and it is understandable that these proposed laws would be difficult to negotiate and pass. For example, it is really hard to define bullying in a way courts could make sense out of, and it is tough to get any law passed that allows for damages and attorney fees, due to the hatred of trial lawyers.
You will probably have to rely on the law governing hostile work environment or some other set of laws as a substitute until we muster up the political will to pass anti-bullying legislation. I go into granular intimate detail in the article on hostile work environments and other articles linked therein — check them out.
I needed to say something about bullying because I get asked about it often and I know it is on a lot of peoples’ minds.
Maybe a lawyer can help you extract some legal theories from your circumstances that could either fix your problems or help you get a favorable resolution, despite the lack of explicit anti-bullying laws.
Article written by | Phil and Tim Willoughby
Maintained by Attorney Phil Willoughby
Founded by Tim Willoughby, Esq. (1959-2013)
Phil is a Missouri employment lawyer who is licensed to practice in Kansas and Missouri, and primarily takes cases in Saint Louis and Kansas City. He is a member of the Missouri Bar Association and Kansas Bar Association. Additionally, he has practiced in the United States Federal Courts of Missouri in St. Louis and Kansas City. He has also practiced in the Kansas Federal District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.
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